WEIGHT MANAGEMENT ∙ 5 minutes read

What are the best strength training exercises for beginners?

By Ashton Sheriff | Medically reviewed by Dr Jaskirt Matharu

When you think of the words “strength” and “muscle”, you might immediately picture bulging biceps, a chiselled chest, and six pack abs. These are the muscle groups that usually steal the spotlight - but with over 600 muscles in the human body, there’s a lot more to strength than simply aesthetics. 

Muscles play an incredibly important role in our day-to-day lives. They help us lift things, walk, and maintain good posture. Even the most basic functions we take for granted, such as speaking and eating, are largely influenced by the action of muscles. 

Put simply, muscles are essential to our survival. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to perform the daily processes we need to survive, such as breathing and digesting food.

But let’s not undermine the importance of strengthening the more “superficial” muscles (known as skeletal muscle) that we mentioned earlier. Strength training - the type of training dedicated to strengthening skeletal muscle - is essential because it can bestow a range of health benefits, such as:

  • Greater muscular strength.
  • Increased bone density (meaning your bones become stronger). 
  • Mental health management (strength training can reduce the symptoms of depression).
  • Chronic condition management (strength training can reduce the symptoms of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes).
  • Injury prevention (by protecting joints).
  • Weight management and weight loss

So, now that you know why strength training is important, it’s time to delve into the strength training exercises that are best for beginners. First, though, let’s get to grips with what strength training actually is.

Strength training (resistance training)

Strength training (also known as resistance training) is any type of exercise that places your muscles under some kind of load (resistance). The most obvious example of this is weightlifting, as weights put significant load on your muscles. Over time, this load causes the muscles to grow and get stronger as they adapt to the resistance being placed on them. 

However, weightlifting isn’t the only form of strength training exercise. Other types of strength training exercises include:

  • Calisthenics 
  • Yoga 
  • Pilates 

Like weightlifting, these functional strength training exercises put your muscles under significant load, which can increase muscle strength and size. They’re good for increasing overall strength, as well as the more specific kind of strength you can only get from practising each one (e.g. yoga is great for building a very particular, yoga-specific kind of functional strength and flexibility). 

Which strength training exercise is best?

The type of strength training exercise that’s best for you will depend on:

  1. Your current level of fitness and ability. 
  2. Which type of exercise you enjoy/interests you.
  3. What your goals are. 

Weightlifting

If you’re a beginner, you’re likely to find that weightlifting is a relatively easy form of strength training to get into because the weights can easily be adjusted to your current level of strength. Even if you’ve never picked up a weight before, it should be easy enough to find a weight that is light enough for you to work with. 

There are many different styles of weightlifting out there to choose from. Beginners may find it easier to start off with traditional bodybuilding weightlifting, but as you get more experienced you may want to branch out into specific styles such as powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, or Crossfit.  

When performing weightlifting exercises - or any other strength-building exercises - it’s essential to do them with the proper form. Doing exercises with proper form allows you to get the most out of them while ensuring you protect yourself from injury. Injuries can set your strength training progress back considerably, so it’s best that you maintain proper form whenever you’re lifting weights to minimise the risk. 

Exercise is usually safe and effective for most people. Plus, it can be a lot of fun if you find a type of exercise you enjoy. However, if you have any preexisting health conditions or are taking any medications, it’s best to consult a doctor (or another relevant health professional) before starting any strength training workout plan to make sure it’s appropriate for you. Once you get the all-clear, you can get started on building your strength and becoming the best version of yourself possible.

Calisthenics 

Calisthenics is another good strength training option for beginners (although it’s probably the most challenging option on this list). It’s a form of bodyweight exercise that incorporates gymnastic movements to help you build strength and muscle over time. 

Don’t be intimidated by the insane acrobatic manoeuvres that are pulled off by the pros; calisthenics is very beginner-friendly and is one of the most effective ways to build functional strength (strength that translates well into everyday life, not just working out). 

There are many guides for calisthenics beginners out there that teach you how to start even if you don’t have much upper body strength yet. Just mastering the basic calisthenics exercises (push-ups, pull-ups, dips, and squats) will improve your strength dramatically and give you the body mastery needed to progress onto more advanced calisthenics exercises. 

Calisthenics is great for building strength across the entire body because it consists mainly of compound exercises. Compound exercises are exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once. An example of a compound exercise is a squat because it works your legs, glutes, and core all at the same time. All of the fundamental calisthenics exercises are compound exercises, making calisthenics an ideal option for those who are looking for a time-effective way to get a full-body workout. 

As with weightlifting, it’s important to perform calisthenics skills with the correct form. This is because every single calisthenics exercise becomes much more effective at building strength when executed with good form. Further, doing exercises with proper form will help you to stay injury-free, which will help you to make quicker strength gains in the long run. 

Yoga

If you want to get stronger and feel zen while you’re doing it, yoga is likely to be the best form of strength training exercise for you. Surprisingly, yoga can indeed be a form of strength training because certain yoga positions place considerable resistance on your muscles. 

How beneficial yoga is for building strength depends on the type of yoga you do. Some types are more intense than others, so knowing which variety of yoga to choose is the first step to building strength with this type of exercise. 

The types of yoga that are typically regarded as the most physically demanding are ashtanga, Bikram, and vinyasa yoga. Ashtanga is particularly strenuous and functions as a form of strength training as well as a meditative and spiritual practice. However, due to its intensity, ashtanga yoga is more suitable for more experienced yogis rather than beginners.

Likewise, Bikram yoga is another form of yoga that has strength benefits as well as other health benefits. There’s evidence to suggest that Bikram yoga may be able to improve blood glucose tolerance, bone mineral density, and stiffness in the arteries (which, if left unchecked, may contribute to cardiovascular disease). However, beginners may find this style of yoga to be quite intense, as it’s usually practised in a room that is heated to around 40°C. 

Out of the three types of yoga mentioned above, vinyasa yoga is likely to be the most approachable for beginners. It’s a good combination between intense and relaxing, as it focuses mainly on breathing while flowing through different postures. It can build functional strength and flexibility that translates well into everyday activities, and vinyasa classes are easy to find because it’s a relatively popular style of yoga. 

Another style of yoga for beginners is yin yoga, which focuses on holding postures for extended periods. It’s believed that holding certain postures for long periods of time strengthens joints and increases their range of motion (how far you can move or stretch a part of your body). 

However, as far as strength training goes, beginners are likely to find vinyasa yoga to be more effective for building strength than yin yoga, as the positions in vinyasa yoga generally put your muscles under more load. As you build up the strength over time, you may want to progress onto more vigorous forms of yoga such as ashtanga to challenge and strengthen your muscles further. 

Pilates

Pilates is a type of exercise you’ve probably heard of before. But despite having a widely recognised name, few people know what it actually is or what it involves. 

So, what is pilates, exactly?

Pilates is a system of exercise created by Joseph Hubertus Pilates at the start of the 1920s. It was designed specifically to increase:

  • Muscle strength.
  • Endurance.
  • Flexibility while maintaining spine stabilization.

It usually involves performing bodyweight exercises on a mat or using specialised pilates machines called reformers. Like yoga, both pilates and reformer pilates focus on maintaining proper breathing and good posture throughout the practice. 

The kinds of exercises you can expect to do in pilates varies, but they're usually low-impact bodyweight exercises such as leg lifts, planks, and squats. Sometimes, additional pilates equipment is used such as resistance bands or foam blocks to add more of a challenge or make exercises easier. 

Pilates and reformer pilates are suitable for people of all abilities as well as more experienced athletes. The barrier to entry is low because many of the exercises are relatively simple and can be performed even if you’ve never exercised before. What’s more, pilates reformer machines can make pilates exercises easier or harder because the pulleys and springs that control them can be adjusted to your strength level. If you’ve never exercised before and weightlifting, calisthenics, and yoga seem too intimidating, pilates is likely to be an ideal starting point for your fitness journey.

The bottom line

If you’re new to working out, the best type of strength training exercise for you will depend on:

  1. Which type of exercise you enjoy/interests you.
  2. Your current level of fitness and ability.
  3. What your goals are. 

Weightlifting is a good strength training option for beginners because it’s effective at building strength and the weights can easily be adjusted to your current level of ability. Similarly, calisthenics is good for strength building and is fairly accessible for beginners, too. 

Pilates and yoga are probably the most approachable types of strength training for absolute beginners because they are usually low-impact (meaning they don’t place too much stress on your muscles and joints). 

It’s important to remember that the type of yoga you choose is key because some are more intense than others. Ashtanga yoga is regarded by many as the most physically demanding style, whereas yin yoga is one of the most relaxed. Vinyasa yoga is a good entry point for beginners who want to build strength because it is a good balance between challenging poses and meditative breathwork. 

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